At the virtual Summer Associates Luncheon on June 22, the HBA recognized winners of its 2021 Diversity Awards, as well as participants in the Diversity, Equity & Inclusion Committee's Summer 2021 1L Clerkship Program.
Jackie Coleman of Shell Oil Company hosted the event, which included a panel presentation with 127th District Court Judge Ravi K. Sandill, Janet Brown of CEVA Logistics, and Rikiya Thomas of Porter Hedges LLP, moderated by Ayesha Najam of Gibbs & Bruns LLP. Sponsors included Gibbs & Bruns LLP, Kirkland & Ellis LLP, and Porter Hedges LLP. Read the event program and watch the presentation below. (Having trouble watching this video? Go to YouTube.)
2021 Diversity Award Winners
The HBA Diversity Awards were created in 2020 by then-HBA President Benny Agosto, Jr. to recognize outstanding achievements by law firms, corporate legal departments, and individuals in diversity, equity, and inclusion within the legal profession and the community. Recipients are honored not only for recent accomplishments, but for longtime dedication to these principles.
The selection committee is made of representatives of the Diversity, Equity & Inclusion Committee, the Gender Fairness Committee, and the LGBTQ+ Committee.
Law Firm Winner: Reed Smith LLP
Diversity, equity, and inclusion are at the heart of the firm’s culture and its business model. For nearly 20 years, Reed Smith has had a formal, firmwide DE&I program featuring Business Inclusion Groups that provide lawyers and professional staff the opportunity to work together toward common professional goals, with a primary focus on the recruitment, development, mentorship and retention of diverse talent. These seven groups, led by partners, associates and professional staff, represent racially and ethnically diverse, LGBTQ+ individuals, a Mental Health Task Force, people with disabilities, and veterans and military families. A 36-member Racial Equity Task Force champions the cause of racial equity and monitors the firm’s efforts to make a positive impact at Reed Smith and the communities the firm serves. Forty percent of the firm’s attorneys in leadership or management roles in Houston are people of color, 47 percent are women, and 13 percent identify as LGBTQ.
Corporate Winner: CenterPoint Energy, Inc.
CenterPoint Energy is focused on taking sustainable, long-term actions that build on the company's diversity and inclusion vision. Efforts include a public commitment to advancing diversity and inclusion to colleagues, customers, contractors, suppliers, and community members, regardless of race, gender, color, sexual orientation, age, religion, or physical or mental disability; providing ongoing leadership training to effectively develop inclusive, diverse teams; and developing a strategy to leverage CenterPoint Foundation’s giving to support initiatives that promote diversity, equity, and inclusion. CenterPoint’s Legal Department has been at the forefront of the corporation’s vision by facilitating town hall listening sessions to discuss the impacts of social injustice, resulting in the senior executives establishing a companywide Diversity and Inclusion Council to provide governance and oversight of diversity and inclusion efforts, with senior management serving as executive sponsors. CenterPoint created a dedicated intranet site to provide resources and information about D&I activities and initiatives, and a toolkit for employees to create their own Employee Resource Groups.
Individual Winner: Judge Ravi K. Sandill, 127th District Court
Judge Sandill is not only an influential trial judge, but a true leader in the bar in demonstrating vision, dedication, and commitment in the pursuit of ensuring diversity and inclusion for all. A son of Indian immigrant parents, he has already amassed a lifetime of “firsts”: first South Asian District Court Judge elected in Texas; first South Asian elected countywide in Harris County; and the first South Asian to run for statewide office. Since taking the bench, he has promoted discussion of unconscious bias in the legal system, and he continues to provide thought leadership on that issue today. As part of the HBA’s Implicit Bias Task Force, he was instrumental in the development of courses on awareness, practice, and techniques for navigating assumptions and bias when negotiating, advocating, defending, mediating, and interacting with clients and colleagues. In September, Judge Sandill will require attorneys seeking appointments in his court to have completed at least six hours of bias/mindfulness training every four years. Judge Sandill has also chaired the HBA Diversity, Equity & Inclusion Committee.
Individual Winner: Chevazz Brown, Jackson Walker L.L.P.
Chevazz is a partner at Jackson Walker who attended Thurgood Marshall School of Law. He has dedicated his career to protecting and advocating for diverse attorneys, improving diversity in the legal profession, and passing along lessons he has learned on his journey. Chevazz serves on Jackson Walker’s Diversity, Recruiting, and Mentorship Committees, where he has materially improved the quality and quantity of diversity and inclusion at the firm. He has been active in the HBA, including co-chairing the DE&I Committee; the Communities In Schools Committee, which places diverse high school students with an interest in the law in summer legal internships and provides enrichment programming; and co-chairing the Law Week Fun Run, which raises funds for people with intellectual disabilities. In the American Bar Association, Chevazz served as liaison to the Commission on Racial and Ethnic Diversity in the Profession, encouraging the entry, participation, and retention of diverse lawyers. He is co-founder of the Coalition of Houston Diverse Bar Associations, an organization dedicated to encouraging better coordination among seven affinity bar associations and advancing the cause of diversity, equity, and inclusion.
1L Summer Clerkship Program
Thank you to all employers in the HBA Diversity, Equity & Inclusion Committee 2021 Summer Clerkship Program. See the list of participating law firms, corporations, courts, and government agencies at hba.org/dei.